Taking a slow drive along Greytown’s main street, it’s easy to see how this provincial settlement has earned the title of cafe capital of the Wairarapa. I’ve heard people in Auckland call it the ‘new Parnell’, a place where you can buy anything from an 18th Century chair or Italian earrings to designer clothes and locally produced art, all within an easy half-hour stroll.
Greytown is a major weekend destination for Wellingtonians who brave the Rimutaka hill, a genteel day trip offering wine trails, antiques, arts, craft, specialty shops, and local produce – not to mention a quintessential country atmosphere – but with shopping to rival places with far more traffic fumes.
There are specialty stores like Vine, with its distinctive green façade and a great range of designer clothes and accessories; Invest, which stocks labels by NZ fashion designers; Emporos with its French fabrics, homewares and antiques; and sophisticated homewares are up for grabs at Finishing Touches.
Studios and galleries abound. There's Flax, a continuous showcase of contemporary New Zealand artworks sourced from talented artists from around the nation, and Greytown Gallery featuring New Zealand Birds including a range of classic and contemporary prints, plus books and CDs focusing on New Zealand’s birdlife.
Many people move or return to live in Greytown for the lifestyle, starting small businesses like the Farley brothers, Allan and Ian, who mould, cast, and hand-paint armies of tin-alloy soldiers for export all over the world. Each of these painstakingly crafted miniatures is a unique work of art, sought after by collectors.
Allan and Ian are locals through and through; it was their great-great grandfather, Samuel Oates, who brought the first wheeled vehicle over the Rimutakas 150 years ago.
“He loaded up his wheelbarrow with gum trees and headed over the hill from Wellington,” says Allan. On reaching Greytown, however, the trees disappeared. Later, one of the trees was discovered, planted outside St Lukes Church on Main Street. It can still be seen there today.
Cobblestones Museum, also on the main street, provides a fascinating insight into the region’s past. Among the pioneer buildings is Greytown’s first Methodist Church, erected in 1868; there’s the old Mangapakeha school, and Wairarapa’s first public hospital, which dates back to 1875. A 100-year-old threshing machine will interest today’s farmers. I loved the old coaching stables and cobbled grounds (1857) – it was easy to imagine old stage coaches pulling up, laden with new pioneers; the clip-clop of hooves filling the air.
Nearby, is the divine Schoc Chocolates, maker of organic and preservative-free chocolates and truffles. Deliciously bitter dark chocolate is a specialty, as is a signature lime-chilli range – all the rage in these parts. Locally sourced products are used to create orgasmic confections on site. There’s a four-week expiry date on all Schoc’s products, but that seems a little redundant to me: a longer life than a couple of days anywhere near me would take a freak of fortune!